In much of Seattle, and much of the world, the opening of a new Starbucks cafe rarely causes celebration or alarm.
At the intersection of 23rd Avenue South and South Jackson Street, in the historical heart of Seattle’s Black community, Starbucks’ arrival in 1997 provoked a lot of both. Now, as Starbucks prepares to shutter the store Sunday, the community wonders what comes next — a Central District outsider or a local, Black-owned business.
Change has been a constant in the Central District for a generation. Often it has come to the detriment of the Black community there. The neighborhood, once 80% Black, is now 17%, with white people comprising 44% of the population.
Moe and Lisa Toure, owners of apparel store Toure Apparel, felt this change when they moved their business from 23rd and Jackson to the South End in 2003. The building where their business was located had been bought, and like many of their friends and fellow business owners, they had to move out of the neighborhood.
Today, Toure Apparel is a smaller business and far from the Central District. An Amazon Fresh store sits where their store stood, right across the street from the Starbucks that is now slated to shutter.
The Starbucks was the Seattle-based company’s first in a lower-income community largely made up of people of color. It will close Sunday along with four other Seattle stores as part of a company push to shut down stores it claims have seen an uptick in safety concerns during the pandemic.
The 23rd and Jackson Starbucks was a place for community engagement. But it also was seen as gentrification in a neighborhood that shaped music legends Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Ernestine Anderson and Sir Mix-a-Lot, and where the number of Black residents and businesses has been dwindling since the 1990s.
Now, advocates see the Starbucks closure as an opportunity to counter gentrification and bring Black-owned businesses back to the Central District.
The bid that brought Starbucks to the space was led by the now-defunct Central Area Development Association. At the time, CADA was looking for a coffee establishment by request from the community, former Executive Director George Staggers said. Howard Schultz, now serving a third, temporary stint as Starbucks CEO, approved the bid personally in 1997.
Losing Starbucks is a loss for the community, Staggers said, as it attracted people to the neighborhood and was a meeting space.
It was also a center of community engagement in the Central District. From 2013 to 2016, the 23rd and Jackson location was considered a “community store,” so part of its sales profits went toward YWCA’s GirlsFirst and Young Parent programs. In recent years, 23rd and Jackson workers have nominated local nonprofits for grants from The Starbucks Foundation. The foundation has awarded over $300,000 to YWCA of Seattle since 2017.
The store was also where Public Health – Seattle and King County provided COVID-19 vaccinations with the People of Color Against AIDS Network.
But for others, the Starbucks store is a sign of gentrification.
When the Toures drive through the Central District, they don’t recognize their former home. They miss the sense of community and family around the store. But when they got the notice to leave, they felt they were on their own.
For two years before the Starbucks opened, the lot sat vacant because no one wanted to open a business there, Staggers said.
At the time, Staggers said that lots sat vacant because coffee retailers did not believe racial minorities drank gourmet coffee. He also said the cafe would add to the business diversity of the Central District.
“It may bring people into the community to live here and shop here. People like a variety and they like a lot of choices,” Staggers said at the time. “They didn’t have those choices before.”
If Starbucks had not agreed to open there, another contender would have been a Central District-based business, Catfish Corner. The owners of the restaurant said then that they were angry the business was passed over in favor of an outsider.
The mall where the Starbucks store has been located was bought in 2016 by a subsidiary of Jody and Paul Allen’s Vulcan, Jackson Investors North, for $11.27 million, according to public records.
K. Wyking Garrett, CEO of Africatown Community Land Trust, an organization that advocates for land ownership for the Black community, says he sees the Starbucks store closure as an opportunity. He said he wants to work with Vulcan and Amazon to use the now-vacant space to bring Black-owned businesses back to the neighborhood.
“There are still young people that are very much connected or feel rooted in the community even though they’ve been dispossessed, and that is a whole other sense of trauma,” Garrett said. “The redevelopment should be one that provides opportunities to address that trauma and create healing.”
Bringing Black-owned businesses back to that spot would also address trauma that other community members have from being displaced, Garrett said.
The Toures say they would consider moving their business back to the Central District if given the opportunity. They still love the neighborhood they once considered home. But the space they need is much smaller than it was in 2003. Nowadays, the store specializes in personalized clothing, Moe Toure said. And the couple thinks the level of crime there could hurt business. Their friends have moved to Tacoma and Kent, Lisa Toure said.
“We were kicked out of our family,” Lisa Toure said.